Journal Review: F(r)iction #4 Presents Fresh Creative Delights in “a weird and beautiful little book.”
An advance reader’s copy of F(r)iction #4 for today’s review was provided by Tethered By Letters (TBL).
LIMITED OFFER: the first person to comment on today’s review receives a 1-year digital subscription to F(r)iction on me!
When I received the invite to review F(r)iction #4, I had no idea what delights awaited me. Sure, I expected solid lit plus a few pictures… but F(r)iction isn’t your run-of-the-mill mag with a fistful of images sandwiched in the middle.
F(r)iction #4 delivers a diverse cross-section of work by new and established authors, each thoughtfully framed by full color, full page art. Think “illustrated kid’s book” – but for big kids. Big, strange kids like me. This tri-annual zine embraces the best that modern publishing can offer: global voices, limitless design options, and bounteous indie weirdness. (Yes, I count room for more weirdness among the benefits of modern publishing.) Mixed with stories, poems, and artwork you’ll find author interviews, reviews, a book excerpt, and other treasures.
Before I dig in to the lit, I want to mention that Arthur Asa, Tyler Champion, Elle Levy, and Brian Demers created my very favorite illustrations for this book. (And the other illustrations are wonderful too, of course.)
After an elegant introduction (I felt a true kinship upon reading the Editor’s Note), we kickoff strong with Becoming, a short story by L.P. Walsh. Becoming offers many opportunities for a bigger story without sacrificing completeness. Walsh provokes questions around gender, identity, adolescence, and innocence, while subtle (and not so subtle) textures evoke our increasingly familiar modern pharmaceutical culture. Walsh’s story feels weirdly personal – as a child, I assumed I could choose to be a man or a woman (until Sex Ed came along and said otherwise, as if biology had all the answers).
Three poems by Marc Frazier provide a dreamscape intermission. Ethereal, sensorial, and deceptively simple, these poems might be a challenge to finish. Each time I read them, I seem to get distracted by some shiny fragment they dredge from my memory, as with the line “… roots. gather energy, / a poplar’s nimbus / glows.” These poems feel solitary and introspective, like looking into a hand mirror in a very quiet room of an empty building. My favorite: “Once Upon a Time.”
Several stories and poems in F(r)iction #4 tackle the familiar themes of love and loss through death, including Saver by Michael Twist, and Cold Blooded Old Times by Ryan W. Bradley. Since I admit I get fatigued by some journals’ dedication to the tragic, I truly appreciate that the F(r)iction editors do a good job of spacing them throughout the book.
Kit Reed touches on mortal topics in Stickyfeet™, but with a focus on the strange, twisted, and beautiful roots of personal idiosyncrasies and phobias. Shelley Wood’s Think of Sad, a short story contest winner, paints a bittersweet portrait of people who connect through distances of space, time, and memory; how those distances grow and shrink in a blink. Picking up where Wood leaves off, Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum’s On the 100th Anniversary of Mary’s Death emphasizes the strangely permanent out-of-timeness that accompanies the death of someone you love. I, too, did not watch speechless as 22 ravens mechanically swooped and looped through my backyard, fanning the grass flush to the earth.
We did not! We did not! We did not!
Graphic stories are a natural fit for F(r)iction, and issue #4 boasts Jonas McCluggage’s creepy-but-beautiful Follow the Leader. McCluggage renders palpable characters with captivating art and soft colors that increase the sinister, foreboding presence that lurks in every frame.
Speaking of foreboding, All Manner of Thing by Rebecca Mlinek appeals to the fantastical with nods to shapeshifters, vampires, and workaday humans. While the thrust of the story hinges on mystical transformation and domestic secrets, what really brings this story to life for me is Mlinek’s attention to the discoveries and struggles of motherhood, parenthood, and partnerhood: those corporeal, emotional, and mortal.
The Art of Impalement by Tyler Lacoma is a favorite of mine. Tyler uses this flash piece to explore three characters – Jay, She, and their Love. I enjoy all the nuances in Lacoma’s language selections, and the end absolutely makes me smile.
Letters from Afghanistan is perhaps my very favorite part of F(r)iction #4. Here we glimpse new poems by Hajar, a woman poet from Afghanistan. Hajar’s poetry comes to us from the Afghan Women’s Writing Project (AWWP), working to give a voice to Afghan women of all ages and help them tell their stories. Hajar’s poetry explores emotions with care, contrasting vulnerability with confidence and decisiveness. She never leaves us floating out there on the emotions – we are habitually connected to the here and now through modern touchstones like pills and medicines, wallpaper and cigarettes, politics and air pollution, Facebook and Googling. As much as I enjoy her poetry – which begs many readings – I am especially grateful for the Q&A that follows her work:
I want to see an Afghanistan where people young and old, women and men read. I dream big, and I have noticed that. But I want to be in my countrymen’s bookshelves one day, in each and every library of Kabul. This is my future goal—though perhaps unrealistic, through my writing, I can picture such a day.
So can I, Hajar.
Readers can visit the AWWP website for more poems and stories from Afghan women.
You know I want to go on, to mention every piece and creator by name as they deserve, but it’s time for you to stop reading me and go get your own copy of F(r)iction #4.
As a journal that is unafraid to be different, I recommend F(r)iction to anyone seeking fresh voices in a less-than-traditional presentation. And if you’re one of the weird ones like me, I hope you’ll submit. I’ll be looking for you in the next issue.
Remember: first person to comment receives a 1-year digital subscription to F(r)iction from me.
Grab the A cappella Zoo Bestiary and pull up a chair, but don’t get too comfy. Guest Editor Gina Ochsner keeps her eye on the comfort zone horizon while selecting the best poems and stories for this celebratory tenth issue. Ochsner prefers writing that nudges a reader, as she explains in a 2010 interview with Jeff Baker at The Oregonian,
“I’m not here to make people comfortable, I’m not even writing to make myself comfortable. I make myself really uncomfortable because then I’m hitting on a raw nerve and that’s what it should be all about. The worst thing someone could say about my work is, ‘That was a nice read. I felt so comfortable.’ That would be horrible.”
This same disquiet and vibrancy represent speculative literature (speclit) at its best. Ochsner’s choices for the A cappella Zoo Bestiary accordingly transport readers from the pedestrian path to the Twilight Zone with tight, visceral writing.
Some works in the Bestiary unsettle more than others. From the first sentence, Andrew Mitchell’s story “The Rocket in the Sky” corkscrews with tension of impending and immitigable doom, a lightning flash in the lifetime of Perry Abbot.
Joe Kapitan’s story “War Crumbs,” shows us children who playfully reassemble Uncle Henry, a veteran who literally falls to pieces. As the children periodically hunt Henry’s body parts, we readers puzzle through violent histories, old wounds, half-truths, and meted justice.
“Teaching a Post Lunar World” is a poem by Caitlin Thomson that reads with the clarity and brevity of a nursery rhyme. Don’t be fooled. When the “eldest asks, How could you sleep?” in a moon-and-starlit night, I find myself wondering, How would I ever sleep in a post lunar world?
While you’re looking skyward, flip to Lora Rivera’s story “Calling Rain,” an offering of healing that will crack your heart open like thunder. True to Ochsner’s objective, Rivera gently but unflinchingly introduces us to Tara, a powerful woman, a survivor of violence and sexual abuse, a caller of rain, a sentinel of inner strength.
All speculative literature does not read equally. I find some pieces easy to apprehend on the first read, while others require more work for me to acclimate to their universe. “The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob” by Theodore Carter falls in the category of easy to apprehend, and I was glad to see it reprinted. What can I say? “Sea Blob” pulls on my heartstrings.
Other pieces take a little more mastication. I remembered “The Creature from the Lake” by Hayes Moore like a bit of old dream. On this reading I felt more familiar with my surroundings, less focused on the strangery, and more able to regard the dynamics of the characters.
The real joys of the Bestiary are the unburied treasures: poems and stories I’ve missed from back issues. I’ll just take this chance to say, Thank You, Gina Ochsner, for retrieving so many sparkling jewels like…
… “The Legs Come Off Easily,” a story by Emily J. Lawrence, wherein self-plasticizing young girls pose: “‘The real question is, were you ever real at all?’”
… “Man without a Wishbone,” a poem by Prartho Sereno that muses on “the strange gift of wantlessness / However we come by it.”
… “Take Up the Bonnet Rouge,” a story by Chantel Tattoli that reads like creative nonfiction and affords us the essential levities of garden gnomery.
… “Tale of the Avian Saint,” a poem by William Keener that invokes our senses of responsibility and accountability, and invites us to listen closer and think more carefully.
… “Old Myths,” a story by Collin Blair Grabarek, wherein we witness the Valkyrie descend on an oilrig seeking heroes to defend us in the end times, only to find mere mortals.
… “Kentucky-Fried Christ,” a poem by C. E. Chaffin that offers a kaleidoscope of burning materialism.
… “Brunhilde’s Escape,” flash fiction by Danya Goodman that juxtaposes cityscapes and wildlife, plucks at secret hopes of escape, joy, possibility, and reconnection; I too harbor a not-so-secret delight that Brunhilde the hippo’s “proud and foreboding footsteps are now free to stomp on pasture and road alike.”
Whether you sail the slipstream every day, or just want to dangle your toe in speculative waters, the A cappella Zoo Bestiary will satisfy with a healthy serving of well-written and willfully discomforting speclit.
Ready to read? Visit A cappella Zoo.